Voices Anand Neelakantan S Vaidhyasubramaniam Sathya Saran Shinie Antony Anuja Chandramouli MAGAZINE Buffet People Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI september 26 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 By Ravi Shankar “It is only when Shiva unites with thee, O Shakti, that he becomes the all powerful Lord. Left to himself, he lacks the strength to raise even his little finger.” ~ Devi Upanishad G oddess Sati and Lord Shiva are two sides of the same cosmic coin—the Brahman and Pradhana. Their story which begins with a mighty yagna and , ends with the slighting of Shiva by his royal father-in-law and wife Sati’s subsequent self-immolation, lays the foundation of Shakti. Alarmed that the vengeful Shiva’s tandav would destroy the world, Mahavishnu cut Sati’s body into 51 pieces with his Sudarshan Chakra. (Some legends claim there are 108 pieces.) Her body parts, and ornaments fell to the earth at various places in the subcontinent. These sacred spots are the 51 Shakti Peethas, with each one linked to the 51 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. Shakti and Kala Bhairava are the main deities at all the peethas. West Bengal has the majority among all other Indian states. , The singularity of the Shakti Paathas is that they represent India in its Akhand form for existing and thriving in Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. They also represent the amalgamation of Hinduism since many Devi forms of the 51 Shakti Peethas have local relevance. A family deity who crossed geographic boundaries with conquerors now has a Shakti Peetha. A tribal goddess in a primeval forest joins the Shakti pantheon. Faith is a mystical binding of divinity and man, which is the power of these sanctified sites. From Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, Gujarat to Bengal, the goddess is venerated as the embodiment of sacrifice and love, of loyalty and revival. The Shiva Purana and the Kalika Purana recognise only four major Shakti Peethas—Vimala (Puri, Odisha), Tara Tarini (Ganjam, Odisha), Kamakhya (Guwahati), and Dakshina Kalika (Kalighat, Kolkata). The Kalika Purana sings: “Vimala Pada khandancha, Stana khandancha Tarini (Tara Tarini), Kamakhya Yoni khandancha, Mukha khandancha Kalika (Kali) Anga pratyanga sangena Vishnu Chakra Kshate nacha...” Some peethas are hundreds of centuries old, and have kept their local lore alive till date. For example, a shepherd named Buta Malik in the 15th century was gifted a bag of coal by a sadhu, presumably Lord Shiva, which turned into gold. Looking for the mendicant to express his gratitude, Malik found the holy cave at Amarnath and its Shivalinga made of ice. Sati evokes the paradox of power—the omnipresent Mother Goddess who is both the greatest creative and destructive force in the Universe. Devi Parvati is believed to be Sati’s reincarnation representing creativity fertility and change, free of the , male. The importance of Shakti is evident in the timing of Shivaratri—Sati was reborn as Parvati (daughter of mountains) on the 14th day of the bright half of Mrigashirsha month, which marks the festival. The 51 peethas featured here cannot be an exhaustive representation of the Devi’s grace, since she is all-pervading and omnipresent. But often her incandescent glory is manifested in different forms in one peetha itself—love, ferocity vengeance and devotion—with the uniform purpose , of saving man from evil, both outside and within. Kali is not understood by many who see her purely as a dark and destructive force. But her destruction is aimed only at demons. The demons in the spiritual sense represent the human ego that causes greed, negativity and other evils. In each of the 51 peethas, Shiva dwells as Bhairava, the corresponding energy but with different bhavas. Shaktas worship Shakti as his female manifestation. The humanisation of the divine couple exemplifies the metaphor of motherhood since Parvati succeeds in humanising Shiva who becomes a grihastashrami and fathers Ganesha and Kartikeya (Subrahmanya). Shaktism has increasingly become an independent sect alongside Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Sacred places for tantriks, most Shakti Peethas have Shiva in his Bhairava form which changes in nature from place to place. Local Nature worship traditions incorporated in early Hinduism show the Devi as the goddess of forests, mountains, rivers and lakes. Not surprisingly A large number of Shakti . Peethas are situated on hill tops, caves and by water bodies where the mysteries of Nature represent the divine. In the arcane world of maya and karma, there are different stories about Bhairava’s origins; Kala Bhairava was born from Shiva’s hair to cut off Brahma’s head; the Ashtanga Bhairavas rose from Shiva himself after he merged Kali and her child inside him; the demon-destroying Kala Bhairava was the father of the terrible Ashtanga Bhairavas. In fact, there are 64 Bhairavas who protect many Shakti Peethas, appointed by Shiva or as Shiva himself. The occult and the spiritual have the same purpose in all the 51 Shakti Peethas—destroy the ego, purify yourself with pure bhakti and rejoice in the blessings of divine knowledge. NORTH Mahamaya Shakti Peetha Amarnath, Jammu and Kashmir Throat Bhairava: Trisandhyeshwar Located in the Amarnath cave high in the Himalayas (12,756 ft), Shakti here is worshipped as Mahamaya or the Great Illusion. After Sati was dismembered, Lord Shiva appointed Trisandhyeshwar to guard her throat from being taken by evil forces or destroyed by Nature. Devotees believe that an annual pilgrimage to Amarnath will bestow on them the power of attraction, remove their karma doshas, and transform their consciousness. It was here that Shiva initiated Parvati into the secret of immortality—the Kriya Kundalini Pranayam. In tantra, it is known as Kriya Tantra Yoga, where duality becomes one. Mahamaya is to be the creator and destroyer of illusion, a metaphor for the cyclical play of divinity . Legend: Shiva was drawn to Amarnath Cave by the love of Parvati who did tapas, wishing to be united with her lord. Propitiated, he initiated her into Tantra, Yoga and Brahman, and told her the Amar Katha (the secret of immortality Anxious to avoid being .) overheard, Shiva created the Rudra Kalagni and commanded him to burn everything in sight in and around the cave. However, an egg concealed under Shiva’s deerskin mat survived. A pair of pigeons born from the egg overheard his secret and became immortal. It’s a miracle that many pilgrims come across pigeons living in the freezing cold. When to go: July-August Nearest airport: Srinagar (72 km) Nearest railway station: Jammu Tawi (176 km) Nearest bus stand: Pahalgam and Baital (starting points), buses ply from Jammu Motherlodes of Power Maheshwara The temple is dedicated to Goddess Uma, a benevolent form of Parvati. The union of Devi Uma and Lord Shiva is described as Ardhanarishwara, the synthesis of the masculine and feminine energies of the Universe. However, this Shakti Peetha covers three temples— Vanadurgo Temple in Madhubani district, Jeyamangala Devi Temple in Samastipur and Ugratara Temple near Saharsa. Uchchaith Bhagwati is the devi consecrated in Vanadurgo Temple whose shoulder is the idol. She is worshipped as Siddhidatri, the ninth form of Durga Mata. Maa Mangala rules the Jeyamangala Devi Temple and the third temple is a powerful centre of Shakti tantrism. The main goddess is Bhagwati Tara wearing a silver crown has idols of Ekjata and Nil Saraswati on either side. Blessings from Uma and Shiva are believed to bring marital bliss and a peaceful domestic life. Festivals: Ram Navami, Shivaratri, Durga Puja, Kali Puja and Navaratri Best time to visit: Year round Nearest railway station: Janakpur Nearest airport: Patna (four hours) Guhyeshwari Shakti Peetha Kathmandu, Nepal Both knees Bhairava: Kapali In the arcana of Devi worship, the unmanifested is reality. Guhyeshwari Shakti Peetha is where Guhyakali or the hidden Kali holds court. The Mother Goddess’s shrine depicting the cycles of birth and death is a touchstone for the Bagmati Ghats where last rites are performed. Since Kali is the goddess of cremation grounds, a skeletal image confronts devotees at the temple’s entrance. The metallic doorframe at the garbhagriha flaunts intricately carved images of the Devi’s various forms. Kali is worshipped in her Vajrayogini form in the traditions of Mahayana Buddhism and tantra sadhana. She is often associated with the bloodthirsty self-decapitated Chhinnamasta Devi, the warrior goddess who symbolises the life-giver and life-taker. She is one of the 10 Mahavidyas, or knowledge streams. Though Pashupatinath Temple is practically next door, pilgrims visit Guhyeshwari first. Shiva as Kapali wanders the Universe holding Brahma’s skull as a begging bowl. The skull represents the inflated ego. Legend: It is believed that the priests of the Pashupatinath Temple can accurately predict a person’s time of death. Festivals: Guhyeshwari Yatra, Navratras (Dashain in Nepal) and Newark Bhog Best time to visit: Oct-March Nearest airport: Kathmandu By road: 20 hours from Delhi Devi Varahi Shakti Peetha As Navaratri and Dussehra approach, the significance of the 51 Shakti Peethas once again resonates in the pilgrim’s prayers Gandaki Devi Shakti Peetha Muktinath, Nepal Right cheek Bhairava: Chakrapani Considered Muktadayini—she who liberates—Sati presides over this shrine which is located at the origin of the Gandaki River in Nepal, at an altitude of 3,800 metres. But she is worshipped as Gandaki Chandi, the remover of obstacles. The Gandaki Devi shrine is situated close to Muktinath Temple and is built in the Himalayan pagoda style. Vaishnavites regard the multicoloured shaligrams in the riverbed the embodiments of Lord Vishnu—white for Vasudeva, black for Vishnu, green for Narayana, blue for Krishna, golden and reddish yellow for Narasimha and yellow for Vamana. A hymn in the Nalayira Divya Prabandham by Kulasekhara Alvar celebrates Gandaki Devi temple as a divyadesam, one of the 108 By Sangram Parhi Vishnu temples. Chakrapani is Lord Shiva holding a chakra. He grants moksha to devotees and solves their difficulties. Legend: Padmasambhava meditated here on his way to Tibet where he founded Tibetan Buddhism. The river has 108 water springs—a mystic number in Hindu astrology since the 12 Rashis and nine Grahas have 108 combinations. Best time to visit: March-May & Sept-Dec By air: Kathmandu to Pokhara to Jomson. From there, drive to the temple. Or take a Mountain Flight from Kathmandu to Muktinath. The temple is a 30-minute walk from there. Jwalaji Shakti Peetha Kangra, Himachal Pradesh Tongue Bhairava: Unmatta Bhairava There is no idol in the flaming Jwalaji Temple. A priest lights the natural gas that emanates from a copper pipe, creating a blue flame which is worshiped as the manifestation of Jwalamukhi. Nine flames here are named after nine goddesses—Mahakali, Annapurna, Chandi, Hinglaj, Vidhya, Basni, Maha Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ambika and Anji Devi, all of which burn continuously As . per the scriptures, the original temple to the ‘Flaming Goddess’ was built by the Pandavas. Her form is Ambika or Siddhida. The equestrian Unmatta Bhairava carries a bludgeon and javelin. He is worshipped by star crossed lovers, people with graham dosha in their horoscopes and barren women. Legend: Emperor Akbar tried to douse Jwalaji’s flames with water, but they could not be put out. He became her devotee and the water he poured continues to drip into a tank on the temple grounds. Festivals: Navaratri fairs Best time to visit: March-April & Sept-Oct Nearest airport: Dharamsala (40 km) Nearest railway station: Una (60 km) Dakshayani Devi Shakti Peetha Mansa, Tibet Right hand Bhairava: Amar Located on the banks of Lake Manosarovar, this peetha is the gateway to Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva and Parvati. Its deity is Shakti Dakshayani. The shrine pays tribute to Maya and the impermanence of the material world since no physical temple stands on the spot. Instead, devotees offer their prayers at a giant boulder. Festivals: In Badrapada Masa fair (August-September), on the eighth day of the Shukla Paksha Ashtami. Best time to visit: Mid-May to October Nearest airport: Jammu By road: Public/private vehicles available to reach the temple via Lipulekh Pass and Nathu La Pass Mithila Shakti Peetha Mithila, Bihar Left shoulder Bhairava: Mahodara or Panchasagar Varanasi, , Uttar Pradesh Lower jaw Bhairava: Samhara /Maha Rudra On Manmandir Ghat, not too far from the well-known Dashashwamedh Ghat, is the Panchasagar Shakti Peetha dedicated to Goddess Varahi. Varahi, literally meaning ‘with the face of a boar’, is depicted with the head of a female boar. The bejewelled idol wears a red sari. In most representations, she carries a disc similar to Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra. This peetha is unique since the Devi is worshipped in tandem with Lord Vishnu. She is called Narayani, ‘the power of Narayana’. Pilgrims believe that Varahi will destroy opponents. Tantric worshippers seek her blessings for a long and flourishing life. Samhara Murti is one of Shiva’s savage forms. Legend: Durga contains the multiplicity of divinity by housing Matrikas (Mother Goddesses) in her body which emerge to kill the demon Raktabija. When the demon Shumbha challenges Durga to single combat, the Matrikas merge with her to destroy him with combined power. Best time to visit: Sept-Feb Nearest airport/railway station: Varanasi Lalita Devi Shakti Peetha Sitapur Uttar Pradesh , Fingers Bhairava: Bhavah Turn to page 2
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